Cooking up a Charm

Orange, red, and purple color the sky as the sun slowly sets behind a lush, green island ringed with white, sandy beaches. The gentle wind cools your sun-drenched skin, and you take another sip of chilled Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the freshly prepared salad of baby spinach and goat cheese. Utterly relaxed, you breathe in deeply and take a mental snapshot of the moment.

Aboard Ciao Bella, observing our guests in this "mush" state is our reward for all the hard work behind the scenes to make this moment happen.
Creating this dining experience begins with the preference sheet, an informal survey our guests fill out, months before their charter, and return to us. The questions are designed to elicit from the guests everything from the principal objective for their vacation down to their favorite snack. This information, which we follow up with a phone call, gives us a chance to know our guests before they arrive. I personally pay particular attention to food preferences, dietary restrictions, allergies, and medical conditions. They will affect my choices when I begin to plan menus for the charter.

Menu planning, in my opinion, is the most crucial stage for a successful charter. First, I sort through my collection of recipes from personal family favorites, magazine tear sheets, and various cookbooks. Next, I develop the menu plan, taking into account variety, simplicity, flavor, dietary limitations, and flexibility. The final layout acts as a guide to my week's galley schedule, and as the starting point for the necessary detailed shopping list.

Shopping is a personal adventure. The challenge is in finding the best possible produce and groceries available at various ports of call. I typically can't find everything on my shopping list under one roof. There are instances when some produce isn't available at all that day, because the expected flight or shipment didn't arrive. This is when flexibility in planning my menus plays a key role in shopping. On the spot, I adjust my menu to what I know I can purchase. Through experience, I've learned which grocery stores or markets offer what products, and I've learned how to make the most of what is available.

Knowing the "lay of the land" is definitely an advantage in creating unique dining experiences for our guests. I love to integrate the fresh local food into our menu as often as I can. For instance, French cheese and a freshly baked baguette purchased in St. Barts, in the French West Indies, are a tasty treat for an afternoon lunch while sailing. A favorite surprise was when, with perfect timing, a local Maine lobsterman personally delivered hot boiled lobsters to Ciao Bella for dinner. When the guests inquired what was for dinner, I replied, "It'll be arriving any minute now." There was a knock on the hull, and voilà-there they were. It doesn't get any fresher than that! Experiences like these give our guests the flavor of both the vacation destination and the local specialties.

I know that the effort I put in, from start to finish, has been worth it when Tim and I see our guests sitting around the dinner table sharing good times, laughs, and stories. They're creating memories for a lifetime. I'm proud when my food has been a complementary ingredient in their vacation aboard Ciao Bella. Lisa Jouris, first mate/chef, Ciao Bella